In the Wild ...

Spicebush

By Mary T. Harrington  

  In Lenoir at the far end of the parking lot, there is path in which you turn first left and then right to begin walking up the slightly inclined hill towards the nature center. In that corner to the right where the path from the parking lot meets the path going up the hill is 15-foot tree-like shrub growing in a moist, shady area. At this time of year, you will notice dense clusters of buds along the branches. These will bloom into 6 petal greenish-yellow flowers within the next couple of weeks. After pollination, alternate, aromatic leaves will grow to about 3-5 inches in length. In fall, bright red berries will develop. This shrub, a member of the laurel family, is known as spicebush (lindera benzion). Other common names include Benjamin Bush and Forsythia of the Wild. This is a wonderful aromatic shrub that is native to this area.

    This shrub has been used extensively for many purposes. During the Civil War, the leaves were used as a substitute when tea was scarce. The berries were dried and then powdered as a alternate for allspice during the Revolutionary War.  Native Americans used the bark and leaves for a variety of disorders including coughs and croup. Tea from the bark was reported to be an excellent blood tonic that increased or improved circulation.

    The reddish fruits contain a single large seed that are relished by thrushes, particularly the Wood Thrush and Veery. Other birds known to eat the fruit include Ring-necked Pheasant, Bobwhite, Catbird, Crested Flycatcher and Red-eyed Vireo.

    This is a great shrub to plant in those moist shady areas of the yard as it thrives in this type of habitat. Deer tend to leave it alone because it is aromatic. I love it because of its persistent fragrance and early spring blooming.

(Sketch courtesy of United States Forest Service)

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